Commission wants Alaska to have more influence over arctic’s future

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent trails the Coast Guard Cutter Healy as the two ships work their way farther north to research the floor of the Arctic Ocean Sept. 2, 2009. (Photo by Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard)

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent trails the Coast Guard Cutter Healy as the two ships work their way farther north to research the floor of the Arctic Ocean Sept. 2, 2009. (Photo by Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard)

After a year of meetings, the Legislature’s Arctic Policy Commission is rolling out its strategy for the region.

The draft report is over 100 pages, and it offers recommendations on how to manage maritime commerce and resource development in the Arctic, how to improve emergency response, and how to include the state’s indigenous population in policy decisions.

Rep. Bob Herron, a Bethel Democrat who co-chaired the commission, says having an “Arctic thought process” puts the state on better footing with the federal government when it comes to having a say in policy for the region.

“We want to be in the center of all those decisions,” says Herron.

The Arctic Policy Commission’s work may have a more immediate influence on the state’s own policy. The report identified the lack of infrastructure as a key problem for the region, and Herron and his fellow co-chair, Sen. Lesil McGuire, each introduced legislation to address that last week. One bill would create a port authority for the Arctic, while the other would authorize the state to issue loans for projects like roads and harbors.

McGuire acknowledges that Arctic development will be expensive and difficult to afford given that the state is looking at a budget shortfall. Still, she sees it as a necessary investment.

“I think we’re going to have to start looking at it right now. We’re already behind,” says McGuire.

The Obama administration offered its own strategy for the Arctic region last week.